By Michael P. Walsh
Special to the Voice
A New York contractor began construction last week on the new Cove River tide gate system and pedestrian bridge, Mayor Nancy R. Rossi announced.
City Engineer Abdul Quadir said the project, funded with a $3.9 million state grant, includes replacing the river’s deteriorated wooden tide gates on Captain Thomas Boulevard with new steel gates installed by Terry Contracting & Materials Inc. of Riverhead, New York. The grant money was secured by state Rep. Dorinda Borer (D-115).
The Cove River flows into Long Island Sound through the tide-regulated gates, which abut the Charlotte Bacon “Where Angels Play” playground at Sea Bluff Beach, just off the boulevard near Ocean Avenue.
In high tide, the existing flap gates close to prevent the Sound from flooding the salt marsh on both sides of the river; in low tide, they open to allow the river to flow into the Sound, according to city officials.
Plans for the new tide gate system include installing two flap gates and two self-regulating gates that will enable the city to control the tidal height within an inch to keep the marsh healthy and prevent flooding, Quadir said.
The project also calls for Terry to demolish and replace the river’s concrete footbridge, which has been closed for more than 20 years, with a new prefabricated aluminum truss bridge that will connect Bradley Point Park to Sea Bluff Beach, Quadir said. The 88-foot-long, white powder-coated bridge, manufactured by GatorBridge of Sanford, Florida, will allow pedestrian access over the river.
The project, part of the city’s Coastal Resilience Plan, should take at least four months to complete, officials said, and will reduce the westbound traffic lanes on Captain Thomas Boulevard to one lane for a few weeks.
Officials said the gates are vital to preserving and restoring the river’s tidal wetlands. When functioning, they are designed to protect the surrounding infrastructure and restore the tidal flushing of the 90-acre marsh without flooding upstream properties, including homes, businesses and the campus of West Haven High School.
On Oct. 29, 2012, the surge of Superstorm Sandy overwhelmed the tide gates and flooded the school’s ballfields and track, prompting city officials to seek state funding to safeguard the area from a similar flooding event.
For the past decade, Mark E. Paine Jr., formerly of the Department of Public Works and now the director of the Department of Parks and Recreation, has led the city’s efforts to rehabilitate the marsh by eliminating much of the invasive species, such as phragmites, and restoring the natural salt grasses. The area has also seen a resurgence in shorebirds and waterfowl, thanks to the restoration.
Rossi said the new gates will continue the marsh’s rehabilitation by enabling proper tidal flow to ensure the area is replenished with the salt, sulfur and nutrients it needs to stay healthy.
According to Paine, the first system to restrict tidal flow on the Cove River was built in 1912, primarily for salt hay mowing and drying.
The concrete footbridge and tide gate system were constructed in 1938. Those gates were removed in 1971 and replaced with the existing wooden flap gates, which were installed on the then-new bridge on Captain Thomas Boulevard. The original structure was used as a pedestrian bridge until the late ’90s, when it was fenced off and abandoned because of structural deficiencies, Paine said.